Waltzes by the Strauss Family (CD review)

Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony; Arthur Fiedler, Boston Pops Orchestra. HDTT HDCD406.

Richard M. Daley, Mayor of Chicago, said of Sir Georg Solti, "Under his direction, the Chicago Symphony has achieved new heights, and is respected internationally as a world-class organization."  Any number of other people, including Solti himself, expressed that misleading sentiment, proving that people have short memories. Apparently, they had all forgotten that half a dozen years before Solti, the great Fritz Reiner conducted the Chicago Symphony (from 1953 to 1963), raising it to international prominence, and through his RCA Living Stereo recordings helping to pioneer the stereo age.

I mention this information because I always welcome any new remasterings of Reiner's work, especially when they are as good as this one from HDTT (High Definition Tape Masters).

It was with Richard Strauss that Austro-Hungarian born Fritz Reiner (1888-1963) made his name with some of the earliest (1954) stereo recordings of R. Strauss's work; however, Reiner was no slouch when it came to Johann Strauss and family, either, as demonstrated by this brief collection of waltzes by Johann II and Josef Strauss. As I said about Reiner's Johann Strauss music in an earlier review of JVC's remastering of the same material, I like the music, and I like the way Reiner plays it. Almost everything Reiner conducted came out fresher, more pointed, more secure, more clarified, and more refined than ever before. Sure, Willi Boskovsky, another of my favorites in the Strauss family, put a touch more bounce, more verve, into in Strauss waltzes, but Reiner added the element of purity. I like the selections here, too: three Strauss Jr. waltzes: "Morning Papers," "Emperor Waltz," and "On the Beautiful Blue Danube"; and Strauss Jr.'s brother Josef Strauss's waltz "Village Swallows."

For good measure, HDTT have coupled Reiner's J. Strauss recordings with Arthur Fiedler's Boston Pops accounts of Edward Strauss's "Doctrines," Josef Strauss's "Music of the Sphere," and Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Roses from the South." Fiedler, the longtime conductor of the Boston Pops, probably sold more albums in his lifetime than any single conductor in history, and we generally associate him with light music. Perhaps that's why he handles Edward, Josef, and Johann Strauss's music so handily. It may not have quite the same elegant charm of Reiner's Strauss, but it has plenty of pizzazz to compensate.

Fritz Reiner
RCA recorded the music in 1957, and HDTT transferred it from several RCA 2-track tapes. I alluded above that I had reviewed some time ago another remastered edition of the Reiner Strauss music, that one by JVC in their XRCD audiophile series. Naturally, I wondered how the HDTT product would compare to something costing quite a lot more, so I put them in two separate CD players and listened back and forth. Not fair, I hear someone say. JVC not only used a costlier process but took their music directly from the original RCA master tapes, whereas HDTT had only the commercial RCA tapes to work with. Never mind, comparisons are comparisons.

Now, here's the thing: As expected, the JVC product did sound a tad better than the HDTT. The JVC seemed a trifle clearer and cleaner to me, with a bit tauter, deeper bass. Keep in mind, however, that you pay anywhere from two to four times as much for the JVC disc, depending on the HDTT format you choose; and if you didn't have the two discs playing side by side, I doubt that even the most golden ears would know there was a difference at all.

Which means that the HDTT remastering sounds darned good. Like its more-costly JVC counterpart, the HDTT disc sounds smoother and better detailed than the standard RCA product and captures the natural warmth of the venue better, too, at least in the case of the Reiner. I did not have a comparison to make for the Fiedler recordings. However, I can assure you the Fiedler performances sound excellent as well. If anything, they appear even wider in stereo spread and a little more forward in frequency balance than the Reiner things.

Of the two orchestras and concert halls represented here in Chicago and Boston, I preferred the Chicago recordings for their slightly warmer, more realistic sound to the Boston recordings with their more hi-fi-oriented sonics. Nevertheless, preferring the one very slightly over the other takes nothing away from the Boston recordings or performances. Everything on the album is first-rate.

For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa